How to make a Behind the Scenes (BTS) video
A BTS is not a bacon, tomato and sauerkraut sandwich. Well, maybe it is to some people, but for our purposes, those three letters stand for "behind the scenes." A BTS video shows just that— all the stuff that happened behind the camera during the production of a film or video. As the creator of a BTS, it's your job to give audiences a deeper understanding and appreciation for a project.
In general, a BTS will include footage captured on set or location at the video or film shoot, interviews, and interesting supplemental materials like storyboards. Now let's break things down into specifics as we explore in more detail the typical components of BTS videos:
It's always interesting to hear the story behind the story — the inspiration and motivation that led to the ultimate creation. Often exploring this side of the story can lead to the interesting anecdotes and surprising details that audiences love to hear. Covering the who, what, where, when and how is important, but the "why" is often the most interesting part of the story. A good BTS will cover the motivation behind the project, explain what came before and preview what may happen in the future. This is most often and most easily done by interviewing the project's creators.
In this BTS video, the directors of "Gulp," the world's largest stop motion animation shot on a mobile phone, explain that after shooting the world's smallest stop motion film, they wanted to shoot the world's largest.
It's nice to put faces and names to the people who created something, especially if the project itself doesn't reveal who the creators were or give you a personal sense of what they're like. A feature film or slick, polished commercial may come off as grandiose and perfect in the viewer's eye, so it's interesting to see the human side of things, and to know that they were made by people just like you and me. Or, of course, if big names or celebrities were involved people always want to hear about that as well. Use your BTS to give your audience a sense of who these people are and what they do, not only on set and in a professional sense, but also during down time when people are interacting with one another, goofing off and being themselves.
This BTS video on professional animator Ryan Woodward's personal project "Thought of You" does an exquisite job of telling the very human side to a project. It explores Woodward's professional career, but also his family life and personal approach to art, all of which deeply influenced the final product. The video also explores his relationship to others involved in the project, including choreographer Kori Wakamatsu, and explores each person's unique approach to the creative process.
Oftentimes other filmmakers are interested in watching BTS videos because they are curious about the technical aspects behind a project. They want to know what cameras, lenses, lighting equipment, microphones, rigs and post production software were used. Did the project make use of state of the art equipment, or a new camera that just came out on the market? Or was it impressive that the entire thing was shot using a mobile phone camera? If so, you may want to let your audience know! Just remember that too much tech could get boring, depending upon your intended audience. Give some thought to who you're making the video for, and what you want them to take away from it.
This BTS video for the always awesome video "Plot Device" does a great job of explaining the equipment that was used, without getting too technical or weighing things down with too many specifics.
On a similar note, BTS videos can be extremely valuable to other filmmakers when they show exactly how the crew got a complicated shot, or created a unique effect. Filmmakers and animators regularly share tips in writing via forums or blogs, but often the best way to demonstrate how something was done is to show a video of it being done!
This BTS video for the Canon Freeze Tag commercial very effectively makes use of multiple camera angles and footage takes in order to explain how they created their cool freeze frame effect. Without any actual words of explanation, they were able to demonstrate visually how everything was achieved.
Let's not forget about sound! This example from the always enlightening Michael Coleman of Soundworks demonstrates how they recorded sound effects for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," including footage of knocking over a big pile of furniture and smashing an RV trailer.
All this tech talk doesn't mean much if you don't explore the motivation behind it. Even more valuable than knowing which dolly was used for a certain shot is knowing why it was used. Every technical choice has a stylistic motivation behind it. Everything from lighting, to shooting handheld versus a tripod, to choosing a certain frame rate, to post production coloring and effects — all of these aspects go toward creating a mood, evoking a feeling and telling a story.
The BTS video for Plot Device mentioned earlier does a great job of explaining the all-important technical components, such as color choices and camera movements, that went into creating the style and feeling of each different segment of the film.
Stylistic choices are a huge part of sound design as well. This Soundworks video on the film "Drive" delves into the choices the sound designers of the film made to create feelings of suspense or urgency through sound.
Every good story has some conflict and drama, and most film and video productions encounter plenty of that to go around. A BTS video tells a story, with a begging, middle, and end. Somewhere in the middle there's bound to be a conflict, and that's great! People find it interesting to learn about the trials and tribulations that were underwent to get the end product. It may help them relate to the story you're telling, appreciate the final product more, or learn from the mistakes of others. In any case, it's always valuable and usually entertaining!
In "Plot Device" it was the rainy weather, for "Gulp" it was the sea tides and long hours. Watching what the creators went through to make things work helps the audience appreciate the final product.
What makes a BTS video special is that it reveals information and shows things that wouldn't otherwise be public. Normally all the audience gets to see is the final product. Showing them what went on behind the scenes can be really valuable and special, so be sure to include some extra special treats! Think of the things that are included in the "special features" section of a DVD. Storyboards, fun facts, timelapse videos, and footage of cast and crew just being silly are all elements that audiences cherish.
This incredibly in-depth and totally awesome BTS Filmumentary from Jamie Benning on "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is seriously jam-packed with special features. If you're an Indy fan like we are here at Vimeo HQ, you'll love the behind the scenes video, audio commentary from cast and crew, deleted scenes, subtitled fact track and excerpts from the 1978 original story conference:
Not every BTS video needs to include all of the elements I just outlined. These are just common features of many BTS videos. Choose which elements you feel would best tell your story and highlight the project and go with those! Sometimes, just cutting together some behind the scenes footage, without any other explanation or features, is enough to tell a good BTS story. For example, this video uses only BTS footage yet reveal quite a bit about how the mind boggling visuals of SOLIPSIST were achieved.
Remember, a really good BTS video will allow audiences to better understand and relate to the people and work that went into creating a project. You know you've made a successful BTS video when it allows the audience to watch the film or video it was about with new insight and deeper appreciation.